Is the brain shrinking due to covid? We found out which “horror stories” about the virus are real

As we age, we lose some of our gray matter.  It turns out that the postponed covid accelerates this process.

As we age, we lose some of our gray matter. It turns out that the postponed covid accelerates this process.

A photo: Shutterstock

Authoritative magazine Nature published new data from scientists that confirm that the SARS-CoV-2 virus can cause changes in the structure of the brain. And not only for those who were seriously ill, but also for those who tolerated covid easily, however, with loss of smell. It was those who were easily ill and studied. In the group of experimental subjects – 785 people from 51 to 81 years old.

So what did the scientists find out?

1. If you lost your sense of smell during covid, but at the same time suffered the disease easily, it is likely that the area of ​​the brain that is responsible for smell is reduced. “Olfactory cells are especially vulnerable to attack by the coronavirus,” the scientists explain. “In the olfactory system, direct neural connections from the olfactory bulb cover several areas of the brain at once (from the piriform cortex to the orbitofrontal region).”

It was in these areas that scientists noted a decrease, thinning of the gray matter.

2. In the same areas, there are more inflammatory markers that damage tissues.

3. And in general, the brain “loses weight”, loses volume after covid.

True, we already lose part of the gray matter with age, and the common expression that the brain “dries out” is not a figure of speech at all, but the very truth. But covid is accelerating this process.

4. Covid survivors also showed, on average, greater cognitive decline – colloquially speaking, they became “slower”.

Scientists, of course, are still going to figure out what to do with this knowledge, but it’s still clear: the loss of smell during covid is a rather dangerous thing. These are degenerative changes in the brain, and inflammation, and due to the spread of the virus along the olfactory pathways. Does the brain recover and “build up” what was lost? More research is needed to answer.

The good news is that exercise for the brain (learning new languages, poems, doing crossword puzzles) does help. Yes, and physical activity also does not hurt – even a regular 40-minute walk in the park improves the blood supply to the brain and improves cognitive functions.


The impact of covid on the brain compared with lack of sleep

Other scientists have published in the journal Cell Reports Medicine survey data of 450 patients. Regardless of the severity of covid, they have:

* the performance of cognitive (“smart”) tasks has worsened,

* decreased verbal intelligence (perception of verbal information),

* reasoning (building logical connections in the process of conversation) and overall performance of the head became worse.

But there were almost no complaints about the deterioration of visual-spatial short-term memory. “This indicates that specific domains responsible for specific cognitive functions are affected by COVID-19,” the scientists say. – Moreover, these symptoms were observed even in those people who did not require hospitalization. And the effect could be very long-lasting. But what is interesting: the faster a person recovered from covid, the better their verbal and general cognitive abilities were.”

Meanwhile, Adrian Owen, a professor of cognitive neuroscience, compared the pattern of cognitive impairment post-COVID to that seen in healthy people with sleep disorders.

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